Social ecology (academic field)

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Social ecology studies relationships between people and their environment, often the interdependence of people, collectives and institutions. Evolving out of biological ecology, human ecology, systems theory and ecological psychology, social ecology takes a “broad, interdisciplinary perspective that gives greater attention to the social, psychological, institutional, and cultural contexts of people-environment relations than did earlier versions of human ecology.”[1] The concept has been employed to study a diverse array of social problems and policies within the behavioural and social sciences.[2]

Conceptual orientation[edit]

As described by Stokols,[3] the core principles of social ecology include:

  • Multidimensional structure of human environments—physical & social, natural & built features; objective-material as well as perceived-symbolic (or semiotic); virtual & place-based features
  • Cross-disciplinary, multi-level, contextual analyses of people-environment relationships spanning proximal and distal scales (from narrow to broad spatial, sociocultural, and temporal scope)
  • Systems principles, especially feedback loops, interdependence of system elements, anticipating unintended side effects of public policies and environmental interventions
  • Translation of theory and research findings into community interventions and public policies
  • Privileging and combining both academic and non-academic perspectives, including scientists and academicians, lay citizens and community stakeholder groups, business leaders and other professional groups, and government decision makers.
  • Transdisciplinary values and orientation, synthesizing concepts and methods from different fields that pertain to particular research topics.[4]

Academic programs[edit]

Several academic programs combine a broad definition of “environmental studies” with analyses of social processes, biological considerations, and the physical environment. A number of social ecology degree-granting programs and research institutes shape the global evolution of the social ecological paradigm. For example, see:

Most of the 120 listed programs at the link below are in human ecology, but many overlap with social ecology:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stokols, Daniel. "Establishing and maintaining healthy environments: toward a social ecology of health promotion." American Psychologist 47.1 (1992): 6. Available at:
  2. ^ Caves, R. W. (2004). Encyclopedia of the City. Routledge. pp. 609. ISBN 9780415252256.
  3. ^ Stokols, Daniel. "Translating social ecological theory into guidelines for community health promotion." American journal of health promotion 10.4 (1996): 282-298. Available at:
  4. ^ Nash, Justin M. "Transdisciplinary training: key components and prerequisites for success." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35.2 (2008): S133-S140.

External links[edit]